- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

SHERIDAN, Wyo. (AP) - If you’ve sat through any proceedings in the Sheridan County courthouse, chances are you’ve seen Steve Matheson standing in the back, quietly ensuring safety and civility.

“Law enforcement presence in the courtroom, right from the start - typically people tend to be more polite,” Matheson said. He wears 18 pounds of gear to work every day, including a bulletproof vest and a tactical belt with pepper spray, Taser and a gun.

Matheson, who has been in law enforcement for 34 years, is the Sheridan County sheriff’s deputy of court. Sheriff’s deputies used to rotate on the court assignment, but Matheson took over full-time three years ago. State law requires his presence, and he understands why, reported The Sheridan Press (https://bit.ly/29rpWQK).

“Somebody’s going to lose,” he said, of court cases. “Somebody’s not going to be happy.”

When a defendant is convicted and must be taken into custody, he’s been trained to step up quickly, handcuff the person and not let family members hug. This could fuel the family’s emotions, he said, but more importantly, it could allow them to pass a weapon or drug to the defendant, if they were so inclined.

Matheson stays busy, shuffling between hearings in circuit court and the two district courts. “Three court Thursdays,” when each court is in session, can get especially hectic.

Matheson also monitors more than a dozen courthouse security cameras - sometimes from his desk, sometimes from his tablet while in court.

Matheson said people can get just as agitated in a small claims court arguing over a couple of hundred dollars as they do during divorce proceedings. He said he looks for signs that someone is upset - for instance, getting red in the face and short of breath - and intervenes early.

“Are you all right?” he’ll ask. Or maybe a simple, “Let’s not do this.”

But mostly he sees people in their better states, having sobered up after being arrested. He’s never had anyone actively resist arrest while in the courtroom and only a couple of times has he had to get between two people who were upset.

Matheson grew up in Laramie and moved to Sheridan to finish his final two years in high school.

The move opened his eyes a bit on his hometown.

“I didn’t realize how lousy it was. I came up here and the snow was falling down,” Matheson said, joking.

Matheson went on to graduate from Sheridan College, earning a presidential scholarship to continue studying at the University of Wyoming. But his hours working as a campus cop began overtaking his study hours and he had to give up his scholarship. Matheson would often put in as many as 60 hours a week at football games, concerts and other school events.

After graduating, he worked for the Buffalo Police Department for 8.5 years before moving to the Sheridan Police Department.

Matheson has seen his share of action during his three-decade-plus career in law enforcement. He’s held virtually every title at SPD, moving from patrol sergeant to detective sergeant to detective lieutenant, and more. During the Central Middle School shooting in 1993, he was one of the responding officers.

“An honest cop will tell you they like the excitement, they like the variety,” Matheson said. “And that’s the truth.”

But he also likes the positive impact his work has on individuals.

“That does charge your battery when you solve a case, help someone out, get them out of a violent situation,” he said. “You actually do do good. Sometimes it’s not like you can see the immediate result. I mean, that’s the problem with a lot of cops: They do 20 years and they go, ‘Man, I still see the crime, I still see the stuff.’”

It’s unlike homebuilders, he said, who can drive around town and see the products of their work.

But Matheson said he’s seen a lot of positive change since he started working in Sheridan.

Organizations like the Advocacy and Resource Center and Compass Center for Families, formerly Child Advocacy Services of the Big Horns, “help fill the cracks in the system,” Matheson said.

He’s also seen training for law enforcement officers become more robust, and he believes the judges in place currently - Shelley Cundiff in circuit court and John Fenn and William Edelman in district court - work well with defendants.

“The judges here are very good with their people skills. They give people an opportunity to vent,” he said.

Matheson thinks this diffuses otherwise tense proceedings and makes defendants more willing to comply with courtroom expectations.

In his time off, Matheson likes to bike around the pathways and camp in the Bighorns with his wife, Stefanie, his high school sweetheart. They have three adult sons.


Information from: The Sheridan (Wyo.) Press, https://www.thesheridanpress.com/

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